Four leaders go in church split
One of the mainland's most influential unofficial churches, which has had hundreds of its members detained, placed under house arrest and harassed over the past nine weeks, is facing a fresh crisis after four of its leaders left.
A pastor, a preacher and two deacons of the Beijing-based Shouwang church - part of the leadership team of more than a dozen - have quit, as they could not agree with the church's repeated attempts to hold Sunday services outdoors after it lost its usual place of worship, a church elder said yesterday.
After the church's landlord evicted it under government pressure, members have been trying to worship in a public plaza every Sunday since April 10. Police repeatedly detained those who turned up - 169 were held the first time.
Beijing police picked up 20 church members yesterday near the proposed worship venue, said the church's founding pastor, Jin Tianming.
Scores have been held at police stations and hostels or placed under house arrest since Friday - the eve of the 22nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown - church members said. Observers fear the departure of some of Shouwang's leaders will prompt other church members to follow suit and result in internal divisions.
In a letter to followers last week, Jin said: 'Our colleagues' departure, like an earthquake, has shaken the whole church.'
But yesterday he insisted the incident would not split the church.
Scholars have said the authorities were hoping the crackdowns would divide the church, causing it to disband or split into smaller gatherings.
Officials have largely tolerated small gatherings of unregistered churches, but with 1,000 members, Shouwang's speed of growth and its development into an independent organisation have unnerved the authorities, critics say.